BREAKING: Massive Fire near #Assad's Presidential Palace in #Damascus, #Syria

BREAKING NOW 1:12PM PST - [SANA] the official Syrian state new agency website is apparently off the Internet.

BREAKING NOW [Jul 19, 2012, 17:49 UTC]: Imbasha Large fire on Qasiyoon Mountain near Presidential Palace in Damascus. Ugarit News reports that it is from the Air Defense missile brigade. They have a different picture of it.

With regards to the video clip that emerged this morning showing President Assad with his new Defense Minister, I have these initial thoughts: I looked at this same video clip on CBS, CNN and a French source. Same footage, no audio. I would love to get a high res clip and do a little forensics on it because if what it purports to show really is the case, namely that Assad is alive and well and on post, then I don't understand why they didn't release a much more convincing video. So far what I've seen could easily be composed of old footage and they have had more than twenty-four hours to cobble it together.

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The Daily News is reporting this morning:

Al-Assad wounded, wife in Russia: Report

Syria's embattled president, Bashar al-Assad, was wounded in yesterday's bomb attack which killed the country's top security chiefs, The Guardian reported today.

The report also claimed al-Assad's wife, Asma, had fled to Russia.

Unconfirmed reports claimed that al-Assad had suffered injuries in yesterday's attack which killed his brother-in-law and the deputy chief of the Armed Forces, Assef Shawkat, as well as Defense Minister Dawoud Rahja and Hassan Turkmani, the crisis management chief.

Assad was in the coastal city of Latakia, directing a response to the assassination of three of his top lieutenants, opposition sources and a Western diplomat said today, as reported by Reuters.

Assad, who has not made a public appearance since yesterday's bombing, was commanding the government operation, they said. It was not clear whether Assad traveled to the Mediterranean sea resort before or after the attack.

Syrian Information Minister Umran al-Zuabi, speaking on state TV yesterday, vowed that those behind the attack would be held accountable even if they were outside the country.

He also said the bombing was orchestrated by Turkish, Qatari, Saudi Arabian and Israeli intelligence.

Kossack cryonaut pointed out in the comments that the Daily News is playing fast and loose with what the Guardian did and didn't say above:

sorry but those "reports" from the Guardian about Assad wounded and wife fleeing to Russia are not "reports". If you actually click on the Guardian article you would see:
Mass defections of soldiers and a rampage by pro-regime militiamen were reported in the capital amid a swirl of rumours, including one that Assad's wife, Asma, had fled to Russia and another that troops were being issued with gas masks, raising fears of the use of chemical weapons.


The president's whereabouts was also unclear, with one unconfirmed report that he had been wounded and left Damascus for Latakia on the coast.

Those are both rumors and unconfirmed reports.

cryonaut, thank you again. I plan to take on precisely that type of sloppy journalism in another diary I'm working on about Glenn Greenwald's take on this. He claims that the bombing was done by "Islamic terrorists" and cites a NY Times piece that says no such thing.

In fact, in spite of all the so-called Assad sightings I have heard and pasted on to you this morning, the gave new DM oath, he's vacationing in Latakia and he's in the palace of course, we have yet to see the one obvious thing the world is waiting to see; a video of him talking about the bombing and directing the troops. If he did swear in the the new defense minister in the palace this morning, why are there no videos or even pictures? Didn't anybody have a camera? Even a cell phone?

8:08 AM PT: These are some of the latest tweets I am seeing at this hour:

11:36 AM PT: More tweets I am seeing at this hour:

12:45 PM PT: More news I am seeing at this hour:

The Guardian just published:

Syrian regime issues 48-hour deadline to Damascus rebels

Luke Harding in Beirut, Martin Chulov and Julian Borger
Thursday 19 July 2012 15.13 EDT

Free Syria Army braced for counterattack by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad after four days of dramatic gains

The Syrian military gave residents 48 hours to leave the parts of Damascus now held by rebel forces as it prepared a counterattack aimed at retaking control of its power base and pushing back four days of dramatic rebel gains.

The rebel Free Syria Army on Thursday continued to hold ground it had seized in key parts of the capital during this week's major attack, and was bracing for a decisive battle against loyalist forces who appear to have been caught off guard by the co-ordinated assault.

Guerrilla units continued to push their gains elsewhere in the country, apparently seizing control of at least two border crossing points into Turkey and all crossings into Iraq, according to videos posted on the Internet. Such crossings could prove crucial in funneling supplies into besieged rebel areas.

Syria's second city of Aleppo also saw fresh fighting, with rebels claiming to have routed loyalists from the Azzaz neighborhood, and to be involved in heavy fighting in nearby Idlib city.

From EAWorldView today reports:

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Regime is Shocked and Awed
Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 12:03 | James Miller

1322 GMT: Syria. In our full assessment of the history and the current state of the Syrian insurgency, we point out a pattern - the Free Syrian Army often advances into an area is a surprise attack, and then the Assad regime has to storm that area in order to retake it. The "storming" process is where Assad loses the most soldiers and equipment, both to casualties and to defections, and the more casualties his military takes the more defections occur.

We may be seeing that pattern again in Damascus (we already saw it in Douma, Saqba, and other parts of Ghouta, the eastern suburbs, in the last few months). What appears to be happening is a steady withdrawal of Assad military from the outlying areas in order to protect the core of the capital. While we're likely to see a counter-attack sooner than, say, Al Rastan north of Homs, the price Assad pays will likely be high.

But there is another thing to keep in mind - the cost to civilians, and to infrastructure, will be even higher. This hurts the regime in several ways. First of all, in other cities, like Homs, where the fighting has grown intense, once the peaceful protesters, usually a separate entity from the insurgency, come to believe that they are likely to die in their homes if they do not act, expect to see the ranks of the insurgency swell with new recruits. This is another pattern that has repeated elsewhere, and it has turned the tide in some areas.

Secondly, the economic impact is tremendous. A few videos tell the tale, and remember, this is Syria's Capital City:

Kafr Batna (map):

Yarmouk (map):

Tadamon (map):

1315 GMT: Syria. The map says it all. Below, we've marked locations that we've seen reliable reports of clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the military, or locations that the military is shelling because they believe there is an FSA presence there. By the end of the day, this map will likely be flushed out in more detail, but the key pattern is already clear - the capital is surrounded by the Free Syrian Army on many sides - the southwest, the south, the southeast, the east, and at least some of the northeast.

View Syria - 2012 July 19 - EA Worldview in a larger map

1259 GMT: Syria. The death toll today, as reported by the LCC, a network of activists working to verify eyewitness reports inside Syria, is astonishingly high for this early hour:

77 martyrs were reported thought Syria thus far, including 8 defected soldiers, 1 woman, and 3 children. 25 martyrs were reported in the Damascus Suburbs (Arbain, Al-Tal, Zabadany, Harasta, Haran Al-Awameed); 13 in various areas of Damascus; 13 in Homs; 12 in Hama; 7 in Deir Ezzor; 4 in Daraa; 3 in Aleppo, and 2 in Idlib.

During the previous two days, the death toll inside Damascus was relatively low, and the death toll in the suburbs of Damascus was even lower. That pattern fell apart late in the day yesterday, as the death toll inside the capital grew higher and the fighting spread to more and more suburbs. Now, a battle is raging in nearly every corner of Damascus, as the military appears to be trying to hold the core of the city.

James Miller reports for duty. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us through the morning.

1120 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria report 188 people died across the country on Wednesday, with 70 killed in the Damascus suburbs and 37 in the capital.

Among the fatalities were 60 people slain when a funeral procession was shelled in Sayeda Zainab, south of Damascus.

Claimed footage of the mass burial of the procession's victims:

1113 GMT: Syria. State TV is warning viewers, "Armed men in Tadamon, Midan, Qaa and Nahr Aisha (neighbourhoods) are wearing military uniforms with the insignia of the Republican Guard. This confirms they are planning to commit crimes and attack people, exploiting the trust of citizens in our courageous armed forces."

1107 GMT: Syria. Insurgents show off regime armoured vehicles captured in Izaz in the northwest:

1029 GMT: Syria. Activists and residents reported clashes this morning in Damascus as regime forces deploy armoured vehicles and roadblocks across the capital.

At least one person was reportedly killed in fighting in the Ikhlas neighborhood near the Council of Ministers and a Damascus University campus. Hundreds of families were fleeing the area, between the districts of Kafarsouseh and Mezze, according to witnesses.

"The refugees have nowhere to go. There is fighting across Damascus," said a housewife watching the fighting from a tower block on Mezze Autostrade near the Prime Minister's office.

Fighting has been focused in the southern and north-eastern suburbs of the city, as well as the central areas of Mezze and Kafarsouseh, where a resident said army snipers were deployed on rooftops after insurgents attacked armored vehicles stationed near the Prime Minister's office and a roadblock behind the Iranian Embassy.

Fighting was also reported in Midan, a central district where insurgents have been operating in alleyways and narrow streets that cannot be entered easily by tanks.

Witnesses said armoured vehicles entered the Sinaa neighbourhood, which is adjacent to the historic Old City centre of the capital.

0914 GMT: Syria. The head of United Nations monitors, Major General Robert Mood, has announced his departure.

The mandate of the current mission expires tomorrow.

Mood said, "It pains me to say, but we are not on the track for peace in Syria and the escalations we have witnessed in Damascus over the past few days is a testimony to that."

0906 GMT: Syria. The Guardian speaks to "Ameer", an activist in Damascus --- he says, "[There is] happiness because of what happened yesterday and the FSA [Free Syrian Army] on the gates of Damascus. And fear of what the upcoming days will bring."

Ameer reports "long lines in front of the bakery and food markets", and regime helicopters flying over neighbourhoods. He says the areas of Kafarsouseh and Midan have been under heavy bombardment, but shelling in Barzeh is not as intense, with the Free Syrian Army making "some progress" in the area: "Yesterday they attacked a security branch, and I think they hit the electricity supply to it."

Ameer concludes, "People were very happy. It was great news yesterday --- these people are the regime --- they controlled security and the military. Their deaths are great news to us."

0854 GMT: Egypt. Reuters, quoting an aide, reports that Omar Suleiman, long-time head of intelligence in the Mubarak regime, has died in the US while undergoing medical examinations.

Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera are also carrying the news.

0754 GMT: Syria. The rumour that President Assad went to the coastal city of Lattakia after yesterday's Damascus bomb persists --- Reuters is citing activists and a Western diplomat this morning, although it says it is unclear whether Assad left the capital before or after the attack.

0607 GMT: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. So what line is the US military pursuing in the region, amid significant events from Cairo to Damascus to Manama? The head of US Central Command, had a busy day on Wednesday, seeing Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and chatting with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

There was even time for a chat with Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa about "the region's security and stability".

0500 GMT: Syria. Wednesday may have been the most significant day so far in the 16-month uprising against the Assad regime. Four leading officials --- Minister of Defense Dawoud Rajha; Deputy Minister of Defense and President Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar, and Deputy Vice President Hassan Turkmani --- are dead, killed by a bomb that decimated a meeting of the regime's National Security Cabinet. The head of the National Security Council, Hisham Bekhtyar, is among those seriously wounded.

There were reports throughout the day of other insurgent attacks on regime buildings and positions in Damascus, and the opposition advanced on other fronts across the countries. Unconfirmed rumours swirled about President Assad and his brother Maher, a key military commander; the bottom line was that neither were seen as their leadership was shaken violently.

An EA correspondent summarised the events, with the prospect of more to come:

Friends in Damascus are using the word "uncomfortable" and noting this is the first time that the violence has reached the centre of the city. The 16 months to now has been a prologue to the real action. And no one expect it.

This is the day of the Battle for Damascus. Everyone in the city knows that they are in crisis --- that will have a powerful impact on public opinion. This attack was the real definition of shock and awe.

Here are my related diaries on Syria:
BREAKING: Is Syria's Bashar al-Assad dead or dying?
BREAKING: Damascus explosion kills Defense Minister, other key figures
The battle for Damascus is coming
BREAKING: General Strike in Damascus
BREAKING: Intense fighting reported in Damascus now!
BREAKING: Syrian defector spills beans as important new defection reported.Does Syria's Assad have something on Kofi Annan?
Tremseh Massacre in Syria: What we know
BREAKING: ~227 reported massacred by Assad's forces in Tremseh, Syria today!
Syria: Is Assad regime on the verge of collapse?
BREAKING: Russian Warships reported in Syria
BREAKING: #Russia changing on #Assad but not as fast as conditions in #Syria
UN Observers say violence in Syria is ‘Unprecedented’
BREAKING: Defection of major Assad insider reported in Syria
BREAKING: WikiLeaks releases 2.4 million #Syria emails
When did "Never Again" become "Whenever?" | #Douma
BREAKING: Incredible mass rally in Aleppo, Syria today!
BREAKING: HRW releases torture report on Syria
BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey
BREAKING: Items not in the MSM on Syria
My response to Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria?
BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee
BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke
BREAKING: Kofi Annan to propose Syrian unity gov't sans Assad!
BREAKING: Douma, Syria under massive attack, another massacre feared
BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army
BREAKING: #NATO says No War in #Syria shoot down of #Turkey jet
NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria
BREAKING: Turkey calls for NATO consult on downing of jet by Syria
BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect
UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
BREAKING: Syria fighter pilot defects
BREAKING: Britain stops Russian ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria
BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria
Qaddafi forces Strike Back in Libya
BREAKING: UN suspends mission in Syria
Libya & Syria - two videos - no comment
BREAKING: Russia denies supplying Syria with NEW attack helicopters
Syrian people rise up against the massacre
Another "Houla style" massacre in Syria
Fake Houla Massacre Photo: Was the BBC set up?
Idlib, Syria protest today on anniversary of Kent State killings
BREAKING: Massive protests in Syria following Friday pray
Syria is bleeding
Syria: Ceasefire faltering as mass protests breakout